Indian government is trying to sabotage everything, says VS Atem on the Naga peace process

Sagar for The Caravan
31 August, 2021

On 3 August, the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah) organised a 12-hour shutdown in the state to protest the Indian government’s inaction on a framework agreement signed on the same date in 2015. In the agreement—signed by NSCN(I-M) leaders and the Indian government’s interlocutor, the retired intelligence officer RN Ravi—the Indian government “recognized the unique history and position of the Nagas,” and both sides, “cognizant of the universal principle that in a democracy sovereignty lies with the people,” resolved to reach an agreement over how to share sovereign power in order to ensure peaceful co-existence. Two weeks later, Prime Minister Narendra Modi took credit for having resolved the decades-long insurgency in Nagaland.

In the six years that followed, such an agreement has not materialised. The Modi government opened talks with seven other Naga National Political Groups and, in November 2017, signed a written agreement with the NNPGs. Both the NSCN(I-M) and the NNPGs claim to represent the Naga people, and the various groups have fought against each other in the past. In a letter to Modi, written in February 2020, the NSCN(I-M) accused Ravi of “segregating the Naga civil society” by holding talks with the NNPGs. The letter also criticised the government for appointing Ravi as the governor of Nagaland, in 2019, even as he continued as interlocutor. This, the NSCN(I-M) argued, was a “deliberate deviation” meant to downgrade the negotiations from a political issue to an internal law-and-order problem of the Indian government.

Ravi has grown increasingly hostile towards the NSCN(I-M) since being appointed governor. In his Republic Day speech this year, he claimed that a final solution had not been reached “due to unrealistic intransigence of some people who are unwilling to forsake the politics by gun.” In February, he told the state assembly that the talks had been concluded. He has rejected the NSCN(I-M)’s demand for a separate flag and constitution, and, in his speech on Independence Day, he insisted that Nagaland would remain an integral part of India.

On 6 August, I met VS Atem, a senior NSCN(I-M) leader who has been part of the organisation’s negotiating team, at his residence in Dimapur. Over the course of a day-long interview, we talked about the history and status of the peace process, the deadlock in talks since last year and the terms on which the NSCN(I-M) expects a final solution. Atem blamed the Indian government for sabotaging the talks at the behest of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and said that he was not surprised to find his name included among those who had allegedly been under surveillance through the Pegasus software.